Colombia's Cerrejón coal miners vote to strike

Monday, January 29, 2018

Workers at Colombia's largest coal miner Carbones del Cerrejón voted to go on strike after rejecting the company's latest offer, the union said.

Almost 99% of workers voted in favor of strike action at the mine in La Guajira department after 40 days of negotiations failed, union Sintracarbón said. The union represents 4,000 of the mine's 5,500 workers. About 85% of the mine's unionized workers began voting last week under labor ministry supervision.

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At the same time, both sides agreed to a 20-day extension of negotiations until February 17, Cerrejón said in a statement. The union maintained it was prepared to continue negotiating with the company during a strike, which may start within the next 10 days.

"The union's negotiating committee, at the request of the multi-national, was continuing negotiations to try to reach an agreement through negotiations before the strike declaration," Sintracarbón said in a statement. "However, there has been no major progress in that search."

The company offered inflation-adjusted wage increases of +1.8% for the first year of the agreement and inflation-adjusted +1.4% in 2019, in addition to bonuses totaling 11.5mn pesos (US$4,060), according to the company's website.

In addition to wage increases, stumbling points include outsourcing, safety, health, education, pensions, housing, community and environmental issues, the union said. Safety standards rose to the forefront of the labor conflict after a worker died in an accident at the mine on January 25, according to the union.

Cerrejón's press office didn't immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment. Workers last staged a strike at the mine in 2013.

Cerrejón produced 32Mt coal in 2016 and exported 32.4Mt, according to its website. The mine is controlled by BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore.

In 2017, Colombia, Latin America's largest coal producer, saw coal output drop to 66.1Mt through the first three quarters from 68.1Mt a year earlier, according to the national mining agency (ANM). In total, the country produced 90.5Mt coal for the full year 2016.

President Juan Manuel Santos is courting mining investment to diversify the Andean country's economy away from its dependence on hydrocarbons. The mining industry is studying US$7.6bn in mining projects over the next five years, according to the Colombian mining association (ACM).